SMPL Q&A is a blog feature in which we interview experts on all things relevant to branding, design and simplicity. In this Q&A we speak with Group Director of Strategy, Lisa Kane, about how M&A activity continues to disrupt healthcare.

As industry consolidation increases, what are the biggest brand considerations?

When they merge or make acquisitions, most health systems consider two things: the economics of it all and how to attract and better-serve patients and consumers in a frequently shifting environment. But often overlooked in this equation is the internal audience – the physicians, clinicians, nurses and the entire staff.

According to Thomson Reuters, M&A in healthcare doubled in the first half of 2018 with deals equaling $315.74 billion, compared with $154.87 billion in the first half of 2017. Some healthcare mergers are more straightforward – such as when health systems come together. They have similar services, customers and challenges. Others such as the acquisition of Aetna by CVS Health reflect more challenging brand territory. Their employees operate in a range of different environments, from corporate to clinical to retail, while customers have widely different perceptions of the brands.

To build and sustain a powerful, successful healthcare brand that makes the most of any type of merger or acquisition, employees need to be engaged around what it all means for them, for patients and for customers. But most importantly, they need to be inspired and empowered to deliver those experiences.

How can an organization ensure a merger or acquisition has a positive impact on the patient/customer experience?

In every industry, good customer experiences are built from the inside out. Marketing, advertising, communications are the promise-makers of an organization. They attract attention and set people’s expectations about their future experience. But what happens when a person picks up the phone, walks in the door, or logs on to a patient portal and the experience doesn’t live up to those expectations?

Communicate frequently with employees about what is changing and why. Transparency is key—give people a forum to ask questions and provide input. And remember to engage physicians, nurses and any other customer-facing staff in the process of change. They are on the front line so their understanding and support can make or break the customer experience.

What are the implications for a brand?

Ultimately, the goal for any brand is to increase preference to drive consumer engagement. The question after each M&A is: how? There is no one answer. One piece of the puzzle is considering how technology is changing expectations in healthcare. Another key piece is the employees and clinicians. For better or worse, every single person or thing that impacts the patient and consumer experience is going to have implications for the brand.

How can a brand avoid a fail at the execution of a healthcare M&A?

M&A is complex. In addition to disparate systems and processes, companies are often bringing together different cultures. According to a McKinsey study, 25 percent of executives cited an absence of “cultural fit” as the key reason why so many mergers fail. Meanwhile, an AON/Hewett study highlights a 23 percent increase in “actively disengaged” employees after a change event, regardless of whether or not employees’ jobs are on the line.

Cultural integration is a critical step in making sure that your employees help you live up to the promise of the new company. Here are three simple practices that companies can exercise to help make them more successful at aligning employees:

  1. Establish the organization’s purpose. Purpose is not about differentiating in the market or elaborating on a business strategy. It’s about connecting your employees’ passions with the work they do and inspiring them about the opportunities the change brings.
  2. Create an internal alignment roadmap that lays out a detailed plan for communicating with and training employees. This roadmap should consider your various employee segments, their needs, motivations and the best timing and channels through which to communicate.
  3. Reinforce the right behaviors. Communicate honestly and often to generate excitement about the future. Then, put those ideas into meaningful action: Evolve performance metrics to reflect the desired culture, build in feedback mechanisms to ensure employees’ voices are heard during the transition. Also, reinforce on-brand behavior through recognition and rewards.

Take a deeper look at Simplicity at Work, Siegel+Gale’s global study that shows that organizations who invest in simplifying their workplace benefit from greater trust, advocacy, innovation and retention among employees.